Japan set to create space force within SDF in 5 years' time

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan plans to create a space monitoring force within its Self-Defense Forces by around 2019, with the Defense Ministry having already informed the United States, a source close to Japan-U.S. relations said Saturday.

Initially, the force will be tasked with monitoring dangerous debris floating in Earth's orbit and protecting satellites from collisions with such debris, the source said.

The Defense Ministry has altered its strategy on the use of space to include the development of such an observatory force, following the 2008 enactment of a law revising the principles for Japan's non-military activities in space.

Japan will provide the U.S. military with information obtained in the envisaged operation and seek to strengthen bilateral cooperation in space, the so-called "fourth battlefield," the source said.

According to the source, the ministry plans to operate the force by using radar and telescope facilities in Okayama Prefecture acquired from Japan Space Forum, a Tokyo-based think-tank that coordinates aerospace-related activities among industry, government, and academia.

Japan Space Forum owns the Spaceguard Center radar facility in Kagamino and telescope facility in Ihara in the western Japan prefecture.

The Defense Ministry will acquire the radar and telescope facilities, jointly with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The Defense Ministry is currently considering putting the new force together with assigned units from the Air Self-Defense Force to work on the issues of space debris and satellites.

According to the source, Japan and the United States have been paying close attention to the debris issue since 2007 when a missile launched from China destroyed one of its own satellites as a test.

Some 3,000 fragments of space debris are at risk of colliding with reconnaissance or communications satellites, which could threaten global security.

At space development cooperation talks held in Washington in May, the Japanese and U.S. governments pledged to enhance their cooperation on using satellites for debris monitoring and marine surveillance, and to swiftly reach an agreement on the foundations of the two countries' reciprocal space operations.

It was also agreed that JAXA should provide information to the U.S. Strategic Command.

Originally, the U.S. military had requested to use the ASDF's ground-based radar missile detection and evasion radar system, "FPS5," currently operated in several places including Shimokoshiki Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and Yozadake in Okinawa Prefecture.

But the Defense Ministry had concerns that the FPS5 may not be able to offer full protection against ballistic missiles if tied up in space monitoring, leading it to consider a different option.

August 03, 2014(Mainichi Japan)